Eximia is a song cycle about the history, heritage, environment and aboriginal women’s culture of the lower Hunter Valley using the personified metaphor of Eucalyptus trees native to the Hunter Valley dry sclerophyll forest. It is a 60-minute set of short compositions for two sopranos, violin, percussion, electronics and sound engineer designed for touring in Australia and America.
The 60-minute song cycle will be comprised of a compendium of pieces between 5 and 12 minutes for combinations of the instrumental line-up featuring two sopranos, violin, percussion and electronics. At least twenty minutes of music will be for the entire set and a subset of pieces will be for solo works, duos, trios and quartets featuring instruments and voices of the group, where each piece is a chapter within the set, being self-contained and simultaneously contributing to the macro structure of the entire set.
The subject matter of the libretto will be drawn from historical and environmental material related to personal research and observations sourced from the Wollombi area of New South Wales, being of significance to aboriginal heritage and personal family history. Topics of interest will focus on the aboriginal legacy of the area, particularly women’s culture, the meaning and value of local native plants and trees and their physical and spiritual significance, the subject of memory, lost memory and deliberate “unremembering” of traumatic past events with regards to early European Settlement and its impact on the environment and people. The aim of the cycle is to imagine a connection between past and future, searching for a route forward, not as one of moving on but one of giving back with regards to the environment seen as an abundant source of energy, sustenance and creativity.
The art of story telling
The compilation of songs and pieces formulate chapters contributing to an overall storyline told though character development of the individual players, observation of their personality through music, symbolism and consideration of multiple perspectives related to the bushland through the libretto. The individual players take on the character of a tree, each of which has been personified, for example the Corymbia Eximia (Yellowgum) exudes bright red sap that looks like blood and therefore has association with the sacred feminine attributes representing the perspective of a matriarch. Together, the music and the characters draw the audience into a mystical world of nature, memory, hidden reality, a powerful incite to the unspoken truth and the dreamlike world of a self-sufficient future. Through symbolism, the libretto acts as a mnemonic for the way in which plants and animals provide food, medicine, material and skills for survival independent of the modern market economy. These mnemonics contribute to the personality of each character. Although a story of fiction, based on historical and environmental research, the clarity of the storytelling takes us into an alternative reality, one wherein all is spoken with crystal clear clarity.
The art of remembering
Facing the truth of a deliberately forgotten past is confronting, yet necessary taking one’s inner self deeper into a reality of the present making it more vivid and more colourful. The art of remembering is an ever-fascinating journey back through the pathways of the mind and imagination to bring the past back to life in a contemporary context.
The art of activism
The song cycle is aimed as a peaceful activism for the environment, feminism and aboriginal legacy. Activism as a means by which to challenge the past and present attitudes, expectations, entitlements and privileges, crying for social change and awareness through creativity, music and songs set to imagine an alternative view.
Matriarchy is a theme that is present throughout the work. The association with sacred trees, whispered network, hidden truth, kinship and community kept via a matriarchal lineage is reflected in the all-female line-up. Women work together to form a complete whole yet stand strong as individuals and keepers of a compassionate compendium of memory past and future. The idea of remembering the future by contemplating the past is a powerful trajectory that has universal resonance with female mythology and timeless esoteric women’s literature.
The broad subject of Esoteric Women, fitting with the recording project initiated by Anne Harley, is an area of interest and fascination related to this project particularly when considering the spiritual dimension of aboriginal women’s culture of the Hunter Valley. Wollombi is a meeting place of at least three traditional territories who have for thousands of years practiced ritual at the nearby sacred place at “Mapsite” which is a place of learning. This site strewn with rock engravings, overlooks Mount Yengo, a sacred mountain. Much movement has been done to revitalise men’s culture yet women’s culture remains unseen, buried and side-lined. There are a growing number of men and boys to partake in ensuring traditional knowledge is kept and passed on to the next generation, yet there are very few female elders to pass on traditional women’s knowledge to the next generation. In working through this piece, I hope to create more public awareness and inspiration for the bushland so close to our own doorstep.
The inspiration behind the piece stems from an enriching and eye opening period spent researching and observing Dharug and Yengo National Parks and accessing historical data from Cessnock and Singleton historical society over a period of two years and resulting in a number of pieces that have already been completed including a solo work for Lisa Moore that was released on Cantaloupe about the Irish settlers in The Hunter Valley and an Oratorio commissioned by the Holland Festival called Sacred Environment. Having committed myself to this research, I have scraped the tip of the Iceberg and would like to continue this track with more depth. I am interested in the way in which the bushland has changed over two hundred years of colonisation. Currently there are nearly a hundred species that are considered to be endangered in this area. It is a fragile ecosystem and one that is home to numerous native animals and plants. The bushland of these national parks is world heritage listed and these wild and unique places are less than two hours drive out of the city of Sydney.
Innovation occurs in the piece as it deals with contemporary issues concerning the fragility of the environment and acknowledging way in which native flora may be used in a contemporary context as a source for medicine, food and material. It looks towards traditional women’s culture of the area as a means by which to recognise the strength of that legacy in relation to the environment in which it belongs. The piece searches for a way to express nature as culture in a modern a progressive cultural context. The use of electronics in the piece will seek to connect field recordings with technology in a virtual spatial three-dimensional immersive sonic environment.
The oeuvre of vignettes encapsulates music designed specifically for the performers in the most direct way, tailoring each piece to specific players, drawing out their personal style and expression, emotion and individual character.
The ensemble chosen to perform and tour the work are of the highest calibre of international performing artists dedicated to performing contemporary music to an international audience. The ensemble is dedicated, passionate and well informed as academics and consummate performers. Each player is internationally recognised, unique in their field and have performed frequently on an international platform as well as recorded for major international labels. Bringing this group of people together forms a formidable all-star cast devoting their expertise to the pertinent and current subjects of the environment and human rights in a way that is unflinching, fearless and without compromise.